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Archeologists are one of the harder roles, but can become powerful in the late game. They are often called Arcs for short and start the game with Speed and Stealth. According to the guidebook:

Archeologists understand dungeons pretty well; this
enables them to move quickly and sneak up on the local nasties.
They start equipped with the tools for a proper scientific expedition.

Archeologists can be lawful (human or dwarf) or neutral (human or gnome).

Starting equipment


Archeologists gain the following abilities upon reaching the specified experience level:



Main articles: Hit points and energy

You start with a base 11 HP, with a racial bonus: +2 for humans, +4 for dwarves, +1 for gnomes.

You start with a base power of 1, with a racial bonus: +2 for gnomes, +1 for humans.


Main article: Archeologist quest

The archeologist quest artifact is The Orb of Detection, a crystal ball. When carried, it confers magic resistance, telepathy and half damage when attacked by spells. When #invoked, it toggles invisibility on/off.


Main article: Religion
  • Lawful: Quetzalcoatl
  • Neutral: Camaxtli
  • Chaotic: Huhetotl

Rank titles

The status line shows you to be one of the following ranks when you reach the specified experience level:

  • XL 1-2: Digger
  • XL 3-5: Field Worker
  • XL 6-9: Investigator
  • XL 10-13: Exhumer
  • XL 14-17: Excavator
  • XL 18-21: Spelunker
  • XL 22-25: Speleologist
  • XL 26-29: Collector
  • XL 30: Curator


The archeologist's attire is heavily influenced by the Indiana Jones movies - you start with a leather jacket, fedora and bullwhip.


Early Archeologists are neither berserkers nor powerful spellcasters, so they must become proficient tool-users. An Archeologist must learn to use every item in Nethack to an expert degree: their pet, their touchstone, their pickaxe, their sack, and so forth. The early game must be played cautiously, like the Tourist and Healer. Archeologist is considered one of the most difficult roles, if not outright the most difficult.

Your starting touchstone will instantly identify a gem even when uncursed, which can make the first few floors of the mines very profitable. Between the ability to identify gems and the ability to use your pick-axe to dig up vaults, you can accumulate a lot of wealth in just the first few floors of the dungeon and mines. You can aim to purchase protection as soon as you reach Minetown, even without having to play the dangerous protection racket strategy. Luck is very important early in the game, so save at least one cheap gem to throw to a co-aligned unicorn. Throwing an identified precious gem gives a +5 boost to Luck, so you might consider doing it even before you find a luckstone.

Archeologists should have poison resistance before doing the quest, because the quest is full of poisonous snakes. Players should learn or familiarize themselves with safe-to-eat monsters that give poison resistance as this is a major danger to Archeologists who start with low constitution and hp in most cases.

Because Archeologists start with low physical stats and melee penalties, acquiring an artifact weapon is a central concern. When they find an altar, they should stay there and sacrifice monsters to convert the altar and get an artifact weapon. Lawful and Neutral Archeologists have good gift possibilities such as Grayswandir, Mjollnir, Vorpal Blade, and Magicbane. With an artifact that gives a bonus to hit, they will be better able to employ two-weaponing, as the offhand weapon is guaranteed to hit if the artifact weapon hits.

Since Archeologists cannot fight very well at first and start with Stealth and Speed, invisibility is a highly desirable quality for avoiding monsters. A fast, invisible, stealthy opponent is hard to chase down. Their quest artifact provides it but they should probably get it at first opportunity (from wand, cloak, etc).

Archeologists are better suited at the protection racket than any other class, as they can find and loot vaults, identify and sell valuable gems, and dig down to Minetown. They are also good at Sokoban, because they can use their starting pickaxe to break boulders if need be, and they can use their sack to store the food and items that are plentiful there. Sokoban is also desirable for exercising strength, which starts quite low for Archeologists.

Since they start with high intelligence, Archeologists are better than most at reading spellbooks without needing to bless them. Their proficiency in matter, divination, healing, and attack spells means that they can be competent spellcasters as well. At the same time, armor is critical, since they start with low hit points and 1 point of AC. Whether to cast spells or wear metal armor depends on what items the player finds, but armor is generally much more important in the early game.

Weapon strategy

Archeologist skills
Max Skills

Archeologists start with Basic skill in the categories Whip and Pick-axe.

The best early weapons are the pick-axe and your starting whip (purely for the +2 bonus; whips are ordinarily quite poor). The whip can be applied towards a monster, which will disarm the monster if your dexterity is 6 or higher. This can be a lifesaver when fighting some monsters, given your poor starting AC. Dwarvish mattocks are two handed pick-axes that do more damage than any other non-artifact weapon. Generally you should use the pickaxe and advance it in skill whenever possible, preparing for using a dwarvish mattock. However, if you start out with physical stats that assign penalties (such as 9 STR or 9 DEX) you may need to use the whip for its +2 bonus.

The best artifact weapon for you is Grayswandir, which does double damage and silver damage.It is one of the few artifact weapons you can advance to Expert. A normal silver saber is an excellent weapon - the watch captain in Minetown often carries one, so consider getting a pet to kill him for it. If you disarm him with your whip, it will anger him but not the other guards, and your pet is less likely to get killed.

As noted above, the neutral artifact weapons for Archeologists are quite good as well and will allow you to start being effective with two-weapon skill (due to most having a +1d6 bonus). Lawful Archeologists that manage to find a long sword can also dip for Excalibur. However, this is not always a good move because it will remain restricted, and its -4 unskilled penalty will more than cancel out its +1d5 to hit. Still, Excalibur's +1d10 damage to all monsters may mean life or death when facing ants, killer bees or a horde of orcs. Sacrificing later and getting gifted a different longsword artifact will unrestrict it.

Archeologists have several decent options for melee weapons available in the early game, but the lack of a good ranged weapon will really hurt in the beginning. Boomerangs do 1d9 damage and can be advanced to expert, but they are quite rare and their flight pattern is unusual. Slings can be advanced to skilled, but they are weak and rocks are very heavy. However, with your starting touchstone you will identify numerous pieces of worthless glass which do the same damage as a rock but at 1/10 the weight. Darts and daggers are your other two plentiful options in the early game, both of which can be advanced to basic. Daggers are good because they will never break, but a large stack of darts with +2 or better enchantment is also worthwhile.

So you will probably want to give a skill slot to daggers or darts. Advancing pick-axe to expert is also a good idea, as a dwarvish mattock should be your primary weapon until you get an artifact. That artifact will hopefully be Grayswandir, so advance saber if you find one. That uses 12 skill slots so far, which you will have available at XL 13 - before you do the quest.

In the mid-game and beyond, you may want to advance divination spells to skilled or expert for casting magic mapping and identify, and two weapon combat to basic for supplementing your artifact sword with a silver saber. That uses 19 skill slots, for which you must be XL 20.

Boomerangs are a very powerful ranged weapon. They are probably the most powerful ranged weapon available to Archeologists in the game; unfortunately they are also very rare. If you find one or two early on, it's probably worth advancing your skill to basic. Very late in the game (XL 20 or over) you might consider polypiling for them. A stack of +7 boomerangs can do a lot of damage if advanced to expert level. However, it's not worth advancing your skill in boomerangs past basic if you only have 1 or 2 of them - thus this may only be a worthwhile strategy late in the game.

Alignment record

The following actions affect your alignment record:

  • digging up graves, for a -3 penalty if you are lawful and a +3 bonus if you are chaotic. Regardless of your alignment, you get the message "You feel like a despicable grave robber".
  • breaking historic statues, like the ones on the Oracle level, for a -1 penalty. (If you want to get at the spellbooks they might contain but avoid the alignment penalty, one effective workaround is to position yourself in a line with the statues and have a monster zap a wand of striking at you.)

Ascension kit

Main article: Ascension kit

You should not rely on The Orb of Detection as a source of magic resistance; the Wizard of Yendor can easily steal it. Assuming you do not wish for another quest artifact or use Magicbane, that essentially requires you to wear either gray dragon scale mail or a cloak of magic resistance.


In SLASH'EM, Archeologists may be doppelgangers, elves, or hobbits in addition to the vanilla roles. They can use the research technique at level 1. The starting equipment has also changed.

They begin with a spellbook, one of detect food, detect monsters, light, knock, or wizard lock, 2 random scrolls, a 25% chance of a blindfold, a 25% chance of a towel if they did not get a blindfold, 25% chance of a leash, a 25% chance of a tin opener or a 25% chance of either an oil lamp or a torch if they did not get the tin opener, and a 12.5% chance of a magic marker. The starting fedora has also changed in SLASH'EM and gives +1 charisma and acts as a luckstone when worn.


UnNetHack replaces the Orb of Detection with the Itlachiayaque, an artifact shield of reflection, that confers ESP, half spell damage and fire resistance. When invoked, it produces player targettable stinking cloud.

Encyclopedia entry

Archeology is the search for fact, not truth. [...]
So forget any ideas you've got about lost cities, exotic travel,
and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried
treasure, and X never, ever, marks the spot.

[ Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ]

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